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Stratton Air National Guard Base’s Critical Ski-Bird Planes, Used For Essential NSF Climate Research, Polar Rescue, And Supporting America’s National Security In The North & South Poles, Are Up to Five Decades Old In Constant Need Of Repairs, Creating A Dangerous Amount Of Uncertainty For Airlift Missions

Schumer, Standing In Front Of The Massive Ski-Bird Planes –The Only Ski-Equipped Heavy Airlift Planes Capable Of Flying In The Arctic – Will Demand Air Force Make This A Top Priority And Launch His Push To Help Secure The Funding Needed For These Planes In The Upcoming Defense Bill

Schumer: It’s Time Feds Set The Wheels In Motion To Land These New Ski-Birds For The Capital Region

Standing with the NY Air National Guard’s LC-130H ‘ski-bird’ plane at his back, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer today visited Stratton Air National Guard Base to double down on his calls for the Air Force to prioritize the recapitalization of the 109th Airlift Wing’s polar fleet and launch his push to secure up to $290 million in the defense appropriations bills to replace the two oldest aircraft in the fleet with two LC-130Js, the newest ski-bird model. Schumer explained these planes are the only ski-equipped heavy U.S. military aircraft capable of flying to the Arctic and Antarctica, and are vital to National Science Foundation research, maintaining national security to compete with China and Russia, and also life-saving rescue missions. Among the most notable is the rescue of legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin in Antarctica, after experiencing a medical emergency.

Unfortunately, after more than three decades of year-round service in harsh environments, these planes—several of which were built in the 1970s and operate on technology developed in the 1950s—are rapidly approaching the end of their service life, jeopardizing mission success, aircrew and operator safety, and U.S. national security. Schumer is now leading the charge to help replace these aircrafts and pushing the Air Force to make this needed investment in the Capital Region’s Stratton Air National Guard Base.

“We cannot leave Stratton Air National Guard Base’s ‘ski-bird’ fleet out in the cold when it comes to federal funding. The LC-130H ‘ski-birds’ are the only U.S. military planes capable of carrying out critical scientific research, lifesaving missions, and maintaining U.S. leadership in the Arctic and Antarctic amid growing threats from countries like China and Russia,” said Senator Schumer. “The feds cannot stand idly by and let America’s polar fleet continue to fall into disrepair, which is why I am standing shoulder to shoulder with our NY Air National Guard to fight to land the new planes needed for the 109th Airlift Wing. Our brave crewmembers’ safety, our national security, and continuation of vital National Science Foundation research missions need a new polar fleet and I won’t stop fighting to land these new planes to recapitalize this fleet that has long been a source of pride for the Capital Region.”

On the visit, Schumer saw first-hand the unique capabilities of the ski-bird fleet and how upgrades are necessary to ensure the viability of U.S. military and scientific research missions in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The senator said he is making it a top priority to fight to secure up to $290 million in the next defense appropriations cycle for the procurement of two J model LC-130 aircraft—the newest ski-bird model—to replace the two oldest LC-130H planes in the fleet.  The LC-130 is the only transport aircraft in the world capable of supporting airlift missions to the Arctic and Antarctica, which will be vital in U.S. research to fight climate change and spur cutting-edge discovery in this field.

Major General Ray Shields, Adjutant General of the New York National Guard, said, “I would like to thank Sen. Schumer for visiting the National Guard Airmen of the 109th Airlift Wing to show his continued support for the important work they do daily. The LC-130 the wing flies are the largest ski-equipped planes in the world, and support important scientific missions in the polar regions, and carry out military missions in the Arctic. They are critical to both science and national defense; however, these planes are 30 to 50 years old and need replacement. We appreciate Sen. Schumer's support for ensuring that the New York National Guard can continue to conduct these critical missions with modern aircraft.”

Schumer explained with the fleet having been in service year-round for more than 30 years, the airplanes often suffer reliability issues and high maintenance costs, with only five planes out of the ten total in the fleet being mission capable at any given time. Schumer also revealed that nearly all of the aircraft have parts that need total replacement, but the 109th Airlift Wing can’t make the necessary fixes because many of the parts are no longer being manufactured due to the LC-130H’s age and commodity. Schumer said that both the US Northern Command (NORTHCOM), which oversees the polar airlift mission, and 109th AW, which is responsible for supporting the NSF’s polar research missions is the only U.S. military unit in the world that flies these planes have expressed the urgent need to recapitalize, but the Air Force is dragging their feet. 

In March, Schumer personally wrote to Air Force Secretary Kendall to urge the Air Force to prioritize fleet upgrades and now is making a push in-person to double down on the dire need for these hundreds of millions in funding, for U.S. national security interests, the crewmembers who risk their lives on intense missions, and to continue cutting edge research in the polar regions which include finding solutions to limit global warming and combat climate change.  

Schumer said the LC-130 is also a critical platform for maintaining and strengthening the United States’ presence and operations in the Arctic and Antarctica because the regions are growing in strategic importance and are vital to the nation’s ability to compete with Russia and China, which are establishing strong footholds in the North and South poles. Schumer said if the feds do not take action soon, the fleet will not be able to operate for the long-term, severely impacting the United States’ ability to compete on a global scale, as well as threaten the success of research and military operations in the region, which is why it is vital the U.S. has the advanced capabilities to expand its presence in the regions.

Schumer has a long history of advocating for the Stratton Air National Guard Base in Glenville. In 2005, Schumer successfully fought to keep four planes here, when the BRAC Commission looked at moving them to Arkansas.  In 2015, Schumer, along with Senator Gillibrand, ensured two C-130H cargo transport aircraft that had been slated for removal would remain in the Capital Region.